Slender: the Arrival (PS4) Review with Live Stream
An interesting over-arching story
Decent immersion qualities
Careless porting issues
Uninspired approach to horror genre
Out-of-date visuals and poor sound assets
Boring, laborious gameplay
Slender: The Arrival utilizes interesting storytelling elements to express the lore of the Slender Man but fails to present a captivating gameplay experience beyond a few cheap scares. This first-person, survival horror and sequel to 2012’s Slender: The Eight Pages (Parsec Productions) first premiered to mixed reviews for PC and OS X in 2013, then Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2014. The two-year-old title now makes it way onto the PS4 and Xbox One, bringing with it low-end production values and evidence of careless porting.
For those unaware of the contemporary mythical murderer, the Slender Man is a paranormal creature created by Something Awful users in 2009. The concept has since flourished online with fan generated videos, webcomics, lit, and even a wiki devoted to developing the character’s mythos. True to the Slender Man lore, The Arrival depicts him as a tall, lanky man, dressed in a full suit and tie, and bearing no facial features.
Slender: The Arrival uses a found footage-like approach to storytelling, playing out a series of Slender Man encounters through the lens of a camera. In the first few levels of the game, players control Lauren as she searches decrepit houses, an abandoned kids-camp, and a mining facility for her missing friend Kate. Armed with only a camera and a flashlight, players must scour the dark environments for loose drawings and notes to help them track down the missing girl, all while being stalked by a teleporting Slender Man.
Later levels – as well as “secret” and “extra” levels – allow players to take on the role of Kate and other featured Slender Man victims in order to witness their disappearances first-hand. Every encounter and item in the game, including pages and items inessential to level progression, relate to an overarching story that players can piece together for themselves upon completion of the game. The plot and lore driving the The Arrival were relatively fun to learn about and proved to be among the title’s strongest elements.
The Slender Man moves about the environment by means of teleportation, typically popping up directly in front of players with a jolting “bang.” Once in sight, players can only turn and run to escape him. As players get closer to completing each level, Slender Man’s appearances become more and more frequent, propelling a sense of urgency and panic. Although his sudden jump-out scares consistently spooked me throughout the game, most of time, I felt as though I were playing through a gimmicky walking-sim with scary pop-ups rather than a thoughtful, fleshed out horror. The game’s flash scares could’ve felt more meaningful if perhaps they’d have been paired with greater suspense, meatier gameplay, or at least some sort of variety to fall back on.
While The Arrival’s lore may pique players’ curiosity, navigating it is an entirely different nightmare. Movement and camera controls seem to have received surprisingly little attention for a title whose core gameplay is basically limited to walking and looking. The game features two movement speeds – walking and running – with nothing in between. This obvious remnant of former WASD controls ignores the expressive capabilities of console analog sticks – something quite ubiquitous to modern gamepad commands – and actually makes the D-pad seem like a more suitable means for movement.
The game’s first-person camera control is similarly uneasy and is limited to only four arbitrary sensitivity settings labeled “low,” “normal,” “high,” and “very high.” Both movement and camera commands react only to thumbsticks pressed against the edge of their radii, resulting in an artificial lag and controls that feel unresponsive. Furthermore, the game’s tunnel vision-like, nonadjustable FOV makes gameplay that’s already tedious disorienting and nigh insufferable. One may argue that the restrictive FOV adds to the title’s immersion by representing the limited peripherals of the characters’ in-game camcorders; however, taking immersion into account does not remedy the game’s consequential unpleasant feel.
Environments are large and intentionally present players with very little guidance. Many times after exploring the entire map, I’d find myself short one or two of the randomly placed objectives and have to circle back to find them. Sub-standard controls and an overall slow movement speed made this process laborious every time. Overlooking pages or paths was admittedly a fault in my own abilities; however, the small size and dull color of most objectives and environments didn’t help with the matter.
One level required me to activate six randomly placed generators within a dark mining facility while being stalked by Slender Man and chased by a truly disturbing homunculus, appropriately named “the Chaser.” The Chaser could be blinded by my flashlight, temporarily slowing it down. Despite this added feature, locating all six generators while keeping the monster at bay quickly became a drawn-out chore.
While frustrating and often boring, getting lost in the environments sometimes added to the game’s immersion. There were several instances wherein I truley panicked as I had only one objective left to find but could sense Slender Man closing in on me. Randomly placed objectives and spawn points make levels to play out differently on replays; however, the game didn’t feature a single level I would care to replay and, despite its immersive qualities, just wasn’t very much fun at all.
The Arrival features ugly textures and bland visuals that would’ve found a more suitable home on PS2. In fact, most levels’ saving grace was that they were shrouded in darkness. The game’s sound assets are spotty at best; deep ambient drones complement tense moments but are often interrupted by shoddy environmental sound effects. For instance, Slender Man’s footsteps as he walked over dead leaves sounded a lot like a MineCraft character eating a ham.
Overall, Slender: The Arrival delivers a tween level of horror, comparable to that of the Scary Maze Game, and an unremarkable, if not forgettable, gameplay experience. Outdated, low-quality visuals, inconsistent sound assets, and questionable handling make for a rather tepid title with little more going for it than its mythos. If curiosity compels you enough to consider purchasing the title, I’d recommend avoiding the frustrations of this port’s controls by opting for the original PC or OS X version of the game.
Watch us play through some of Slender Man from the stream below: